March came in like a very large and powerful lion, spawning severe weather across the Midwest, interior south and southeast United States.
Insured losses from the tornadoes, hail and high winds that struck in late February and early March may climb into the $1 billion to $2 billion range, according to catastrophe risk modeling firm EQECAT.
It is estimated that more than 150 tornadoes touched down in two distinct systems between February 28 and March 3, with the majority occurring in Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee, according to EQECAT.
At least 13 states were affected by the storms.
Many of the tornadoes have been rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, indicating winds between 136 to 165 mph, according to Risk Management Solutions (RMS).
An estimated EF4 tornado destroyed the town of Marysville, Ind., according to damage reports, and the town of nearby Henryville sustained very heavy damage. The Associated Press reported that two tornadoes hit Henryville, one of them packing 175 mph winds. Officials say the F4 tornado was on the ground for 52 miles and spanned some 150 yards. It was followed by a second, smaller tornado, the AP reported.
The National Weather Service received reports of tornadoes as far south as northern Florida.
The severe weather outbreak has been associated with 37 fatalities, 20 of which were in Kentucky; however the death toll may continue to rise over the coming days. There have been 49 fatalities resulting from tornado activity this year, EQECAT reported.
The total tornado count in 2012 is already extremely high. The preliminary tornado counts from the weekend outbreak ranks it as the most in terms of number of tornadoes, in March to date (from 1950), and tied highest with January 1999 as the most this early in the season.
According to data provided by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) as of March 5, the National Weather Service received 128 tornado reports, 290 hail reports, and 454 straight-line wind reports on March 2. An additional 10 tornado, two hail, and 29 straight-line wind reports were associated with the storm system as it exited the coast on March 4.
AIR Worldwide reported that in Kentucky as many as 30 tornadoes may have touched down, and officials have recorded damage in at least 40 counties. Worst affected was the eastern portion of the state in the foothill communities of the Appalachian Mountains.
A tornado tore a path of 34 miles through Morgan and Menifee counties, causing extensive damage. Another tornado touched down in Laurel County and traveled 6.3 miles, causing severe damage in the town of East Bernstadt.
Significant damage has also been reported in Tennessee, where officials estimate that 100 homes were damaged by a tornado in the town of Cleveland, and in southern Ohio, where preliminary reports indicate that eight tornadoes touched down, with one given a preliminary EF-3 rating.